Master Plan (Robert Todd, 2011)

Posted by Ezra Glenn on April 03, 2012
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Yesterday we screened Robert Todd’s Master Plan at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s a beautiful documentary of the best kind: one that presents stirring images and thought-provoking juxtapositions, but once stirred and provoked the viewer’s thoughts are allowed to marinate a while. The film shies away from any pat conclusions, seeming much more comfortable presenting a landscape of places, ideas, and lines of inquiry for us to wander and ponder along with Todd, rather than a single “punch line” he wants us to “get”; I was reminded of the line from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where Pirsig talks about the importance of thinking about “what things are,” and not just “what things mean.”

Indeed, the film had a certain Zen-like quality, both in its attention to small details and quietly “just being” in the places it explores, as well as its non-attachment to a single-purpose narrative. Although described as “a feature length film about housing,” its scope extends far beyond simply looking at physical housing: its subject is homes, habitats, communities, neighborhoods, buildings, landscapes, and the ways people interact in, around, and with them; the bulk of the footage presents a wonderfully rich portrait — or perhaps nonstop pan — of the ways humans live in places. Beyond all this — and the luxuriously decompressed pace takes plenty of time meandering before arriving at this point — the focal point of the film finally settles on a prolonged meditation on the homes and communities of incarcerated individuals, which is apparently a longer-term project for Todd. (An earlier film, In Loving Memory, explored the experiences of prisoners on death row; his next major project will examine ways that former prisoners are re-integrated into their home communities.)

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TEDx + inTeractive Somerville

Posted by Ezra Glenn on March 05, 2012
Good Causes / No Comments

Yesterday I was pleased to be a part of the first-ever TEDx Somerville event. I only had four minutes on stage (which, if you’ve ever heard me speak, is barely enough time to get through a few opening wise-cracks), but it did provide a great platform to plug SCC’s new inTeractive Somerville website. In an attempt to showcase the ability to use this site to encourage and enable sharing (of ideas, data, meeting notes, news and personal stories, and more), I snapped a quick photo of the TEDx audience and by the end of the talk had it uploaded, geo-tagged, and posted to create a new discussion thread. (Full disclosure: there was actually some shifty behind-the-scenes driving tricks going on, thanks to Christian Spanring, who was hidden just offstage.)

The videos aren’t posted yet, but when they do go live, be sure to skip right past me and look for Somerville’s own “Alex the Jester” playing different tunes on three recorders all at the same time.

PS: If you are interested in learning more about inTeractive Somerville, and possibly adapting the platform for use in your own community, you should know that the code for the site is all open-source and available at github.

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Somerville Community Corporation Annual Meeting

Posted by Ezra Glenn on February 10, 2012
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Last night was the annual meeting of the Somerville Community Corporation, which is always a great event, and this year was no exception. In addition to me being elected president along with a great slate of officers and new board members, it was a great chance to showcase some of the work of the organization over the past year.

One of the most exciting new efforts is the new Interactive Somerville website, which is helping to engage the community around the challenge of planning for the new MBTA Green Line extension. In essence, SCC and our community partners are working to crowd-source the entire planning process in a fun and collaborative on-line space. There are some great ideas there, and as with all good planning processes, the community we develop around the plan is as important as the community we will develop through it. At the meeting, we gave a special award to MAPC’s Christian Spanring for the countless hours he has put into getting this project off the ground and into its current state of excellence.

Another new on-line effort that was presented was the launching of our new Everyone’s Somerville site, which helps make the case for keeping Somerville affordable. This is the cause that brought me to SCC, and it provides the foundation for all the work we do, whether it is bricks-and-mortar housing development, community organizing campaigns, or new virtual spaces for community building.

If you are as inspired as I am by the work of SCC, please consider helping us out by Donating to SCC.

(I also need to give a huge thanks to Janine Lotti, our outgoing president, who has done so much to lead us over the past four years. Luckily, she is staying on the Board and I know she will continue to be a great friend to both me and SCC.)

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